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Little you care for vows that you made.
Little you care how much I have paid.
My heart is aching,
My heart is breaking,
For somebody’s taking my place.
Words and muslc by Dick Howard, Bob Ellsworth and Russ Morgan
They call… no date. I promised you I’d wait.I want them all to know I’m strictly single, oh.
I’ll walk alone because to tell you the truth I’ll be lonely,I don’t mind being lonely when my heart tells me you are lonely too.I’ll walk alone, they’ll ask me why and I’ll tell them I’d rather.There are dreams I must gather, dreams we fashioned the night you held me tight.
I’ll always be near you wherever you are, each night in every prayer.Just whisper, I’ll hear you, no matter how far.So, close your eyes and I’ll be there.Please walk alone, but send your love and your kisses to guide me.Till you’re walking beside me, I’ll walk alone.Darling, all by myself, I’ll walk alone.
Lyrics by Sammy Cahn, music by Jule Styne. Also featured in the film “Follow The Boys” (1944).
Dinah Shore was born as Fanny Shore in Tennessee and raised in Nashville where she began singing at a nightclub at age 14. When she was attending local Vanderbilt University, she paid for school by singing on radio station WSM. Her program was called “Our Little Cheerleader of Song.” For her theme song, she chose the blues standard “Dinah” popularized by Ethel Waters. After graduation, she moved in New York in 1938 where a flustered radio announcer called her Dinah. The name stuck. She made it big when Eddie Cantor hired her for his radio show. That was followed by a string of hits, her own radio show, movies and, in 1951, the first of a series of television talk shows. She died in 1994.
The crew captains walked into the briefing room, looked at the maps and charts and sat down with their big celluloid pads on their knees. The atmosphere was that of a school and a church. The weatherman gave us the weather. The pilots were reminded that Berlin is Germany’s greatest center of war production. The intelligence officer told us how many heavy and light ack-ack guns, how many searchlights we might expect to encounter. Then, Jock, the wing commander, explained the system of markings, the kind of flares that would be used by the pathfinders. He said that concentration was the secret of success in these raids; that as long as the aircraft stayed bunched, they would protect each other.
The captains of aircraft walked out. I noticed that the big Canadian with the slow, easy grin had printed “Berlin” at the top of his pad and then embellished it with a scroll. The red-headed English boy with the two-weeks’-old mustache was the last to leave the room.
Late in the afternoon we went to the locker room to draw parachutes, Mae Wests [lifevests] and all the rest. As we dressed, a couple of Australians were whistling. Walking out to the bus that was to take us to the aircraft, I heard the station loudspeakers announcing that that evening all personnel would be able to see a film: Star-Spangled Rhythm. Free.
We went out and stood around the big, black four-motored Lancaster, “D for Dog.” A small station wagon delivered a thermos bottle of coffee, chewing gum, an orange, and a bit of chocolate for each man. Up in that part of England the air hums and throbs with the sound of aircraft motors all day, but for half an hour before takeoff the skies are dead, silent and expectant. A lone hawk hovered over the airfield, absolutely still as he faced into the wind. Jack, the tail gunner, said, “It’d be nice to fly like that.” D-Dog eased around the perimeter track to the end of the runway. We sat there for a moment. The green light flashed and we were rolling … ten seconds ahead of schedule.
The takeoff was as smooth as silk. The wheels came up, and D-Dog started the long climb. As we came up through the clouds, I looked right and left and counted fourteen black Lancasters climbing for the place where men must burn oxygen to live. The sun was going down and its red glow made rivers and lakes of fire on the top of the clouds. Down to the southward, the clouds piled up to form castles, battlements, and whole cities, all tinged with red.
Soon we were out over the North Sea. Dave, the navigator, asked Jock if he couldn’t make a little more speed. We were nearly two minutes late. By this time, we were all using oxygen. The talk on the intercom was brief and crisp. Everyone sounded relaxed. For a while, the eight of us in our little world of exile moved over the sea. There was a quarter moon on the starboard beam and Jock’s quiet voice came through the intercom, “That’ll be flak ahead.” We were approaching the enemy coast. The flak looked like a cigarette lighter in a dark room: one that won’t light – sparks but no flame – the sparks crackling just above the level of the cloud tops. We flew steady and straight, and soon the flak was directly below us. D-Dog rocked a little from right to left, but that wasn’t caused by the flak. We were in the slipstream of other Lancasters ahead, and we were over the enemy coast. Then a strange thing happened. The aircraft seemed to grow smaller. Jack in the rear turret, Wally the mid-upper gunner, Titch the wireless operator, all seemed somehow to draw closer to Jock in the cockpit. It was as though each man’s shoulder was against the others. The understanding was complete. The intercom came to life, and Jock said, “Two aircraft on the port beam.” Jack in the tail said, “Okay, sir. They’re Lancs.” The whole crew was a unit and wasn’t wasting words.
The cloud below was ten-tenths. The blue-green jet of the exhausts licked back along the wing, and there were other aircraft all around us. The whole great aerial armada was hurtling toward Berlin. We flew so for twenty minutes, when Jock looked up at a vapor trail curling above us, remarking in a conversational tone that, from the look of it, he thought there was a fighter up there. Occasionally the angry red of ack-ack burst through the clouds, but it was far away, and we took only an academic interest. We were flying in the third wave.
Jock asked Wally in the mid-upper turret, and Jack in the rear, if they were cold. They said they were all right and thanked him for asking. He even asked how I was and I said, “All right so far.” The cloud was beginning to thin out. Off to the north we could see lights, and the flak began to liven up ahead of us. Buzz, the bomb-aimer, crackled through on the intercom, “There’s a battle going on over on the starboard beam.” We couldn’t see the aircraft, but we could see the jets of red tracer being exchanged. Suddenly, there was a burst of yellow flame and Jock remarked, “That’s the fighter going down. Note the position.” The whole thing was interesting, but remote. Dave, the navigator, who was sitting back with his maps, charts and compasses, said, “The attack ought to begin in exactly two minutes.” We were still over the clouds.
But suddenly those dirty gray clouds turned white and we were over the outer searchlight defenses. The clouds below us were white, and we were black. D-Dog seemed like a black bug on a white sheet. The flak began coming up, but none of it close. We were still a long way from Berlin. I didn’t realize just how far. Jock observed, “There’s a kite on fire dead ahead.” It was a great, golden, slow-moving meteor slanting toward the earth. By this time we were about thirty miles from our target area in Berlin. That thirty miles was the longest flight I have ever made.
Dead on time, Buzz the bomb-aimer reported, “Target indicators going down.” At the same moment, the sky ahead was lit up by bright yellow flares. Off to starboard another kite went down in flames. The flares were sprouting all over the sky, reds and greens and yellows, and we were flying straight for the center of the fireworks. D-Dog seemed to be standing still, the four propellers thrashing the air, but we didn’t seem to be closing in. The clouds had cleared, and off to the starboard a Lanc was caught by at least fourteen searchlight beams. We could see him twist and turn and finally break out. But still, the whole thing had a quality of unreality about it. No one seemed to be shooting at us, but it was getting lighter all the time. Suddenly, a tremendous big blob of yellow light appeared dead ahead; another to the right and another to the left. We were flying straight for them.
Jock pointed out to me the dummy fires and flares to right and left, but we kept going in. Dead ahead there was a whole chain of red flares looking like stoplights. Another Lanc was coned on our starboard beam. The lights seemed to be supporting it. Again we could see those little bubbles of colored lead driving at it from two sides. The German fighters were at him. And then, with no warning at all, D-Dog was filled with an unhealthy white light.
I was standing just behind Jock and could see all the seams on the wings. His quiet Scots voice beat in my ears, “Steady lads, we’ve been coned.” His slender body lifted half out of the seat as he jammed the control column forward and to the left. We were going down. Jock was wearing woolen gloves with the fingers cut off. I could see his fingernails turn white as he gripped the wheel. And then I was on my knees, flat on the deck, for he had whipped the Dog back into a climbing turn. The knees should have been strong enough to support me, but they weren’t, and the stomach seemed in some danger of letting me down too. I picked myself up and looked out again. It seemed that one big searchlight, instead of being twenty thousand feet below, was mounted right on our wingtip. D-Dog was corkscrewing. As we rolled down on the other side, I began to see what was happening to Berlin.
The clouds were gone, and the sticks of incendiaries from the preceding waves made the place look like a badly laid-out city with the streetlights on. The small incendiaries were going down like a fistful of white rice thrown on a piece of black velvet. As Jock hauled the Dog up again, I was thrown to the other side of the cockpit. And there below were more incendiaries, glowing white and then turning red. The cookies, the four-thousand-pound high explosives, were bursting below like great sunflowers gone mad. And then, as we started down again, still held in the lights, I remembered that the Dog still had one of those cookies and a whole basket of incendiaries in his belly, and the lights still held us, and I was very frightened.
While Jock was flinging us about in the air, he suddenly yelled over the intercom, “Two aircraft on the port beam.” I looked astern and saw Wally, the mid-upper, whip his turret around to port, and then looked up to see a single-engine fighter slide just above us. The other aircraft was one of ours. Finally, we were out of the cone, flying level. I looked down, and the white fires had turned red. They were beginning to merge and spread, just like butter does on a hot plate. Jock and Buzz, the bomb-aimer, began to discuss the target. The smoke was getting thick down below. Buzz said he liked the two green flares on the ground almost dead ahead. He began calling his directions. Just then a new bunch of big flares went down on the far side of the sea of flame that seemed to be directly below us. He thought that would be a better aiming point. Jock agreed and we flew on.
The bomb doors were opened. Buzz called his directions: “Five left, five left.” And then, there was a gentle, confident upward thrust under my feet and Buzz said, “Cookie gone.” A few seconds later, the incendiaries went, and D-Dog seemed lighter and easier to handle.
I thought I could make out the outline of streets below, but the bomb-aimer didn’t agree, and he ought to know. By this time, all those patches of white on black had turned yellow and started to flow together. Another searchlight caught us but didn’t hold us. Then, through the intercom came the word, “One can of incendiaries didn’t clear. We’re still carrying it.” And Jock replied, “Is it a big one or a little one?” The word came back: “Little one I think, but I’m not sure. I’ll check.” Finally, the intercom announced that it was only a small container of incendiaries left, and Jock remarked, “Well, it’s hardly worth going back and doing a run up for that.” If there had been a good fat bundle left, he would have gone back through that stuff and done it all over again. I began to breathe, and to reflect again, that all men would be brave if only they could leave their stomachs at home. Then there was a tremendous whoomph, an unintelligible shout from the tail gunner, and D-Dog shivered and lost altitude. I looked to the port side and there was a Lancaster that seemed close enough to touch. He had whipped straight under us; missed us by twenty-five, fifty feet, no one knew how much.
The navigator sang out the new course and we were heading for home. Jock was doing what I had heard him tell his pilots to do so often – flying dead on course. He flew straight into a huge green searchlight, and as he rammed the throttles home he remarked, “We’ll have a little trouble getting away from this one.” Again D-Dog dove, climbed and twisted, and was finally free. We flew level then. I looked on the port beam at the target area. There was a red, sullen, obscene glare. The fires seemed to have found each other … and we were heading home.
For a little while it was smooth sailing. We saw more battles. Then another plane in flames, but no one could tell whether it was ours or theirs. We were still near the target. Dave, the navigator said, “Hold her steady, skipper. I want to get an astral sight.” Jock held her steady. And the flak began coming up at us. It seemed to be very close. It was winking off both wings, but the Dog was steady. Finally, Dave said, “Okay, skipper. Thank you very much.” A great orange blob of flak smacked up straight in front of us, and Jock said “I think they’re shooting at us.” I’d thought so for some time. He began to throw D for Dog up, around, and about again. When we were clear of the barrage, I asked him how close the bursts were and he said, “Not very close. When they’re really near, you can smell ’em.” That proved nothing for I’d been holding my breath.
Jack sang out from the rear turret that his oxygen was getting low; he thought maybe the lead had frozen. Titch the wireless operator went scrambling back with a new mask and a bottle of oxygen. Dave said, “We’re crossing the coast.” My mind went back to the time I had crossed that coast in 1938, in a plane that had taken off from Prague. Just ahead of me sat two refugees from Vienna – an old man and his wife. The copilot came back and told them that we were outside German territory. The old man reached out and grasped his wife’s hand. The work that was done last night was a massive blow of retribution, for all those who have fled from the sound of shots and blows on a stricken continent.
We began to lose height over the North Sea. We were over England’s shores. The land was dark beneath us. Somewhere down there below, American boys were probably bombing up Fortresses and Liberators, getting ready for the day’s work. We were over the home field. We called the control tower and the calm, clear voice of an English girl replied, “Greetings D-Dog. You are diverted to Mulebag.” We swung round, contacted Mulebag, came in on the flare path, touched down very gently, ran along to the end of the runway and turned left. And Jock, the finest pilot in Bomber Command, said to the control tower, “D-Dog clear of runway.”
When we went in for interrogation, I looked on the board and saw that the big, slow-smiling Canadian and the red-headed English boy with the two-weeks’-old moustache hadn’t made it. They were missing.
There were four reporters on this operation. Two of them didn’t come back. Two friends of mine, Norman Stockton of Australian Associated Newspapers, and Lowell Bennett, an American representing International News Service. There is something of a tradition amongst reporters, that those who are prevented by circumstances from filing their stories will be covered by their colleagues. This has been my effort to do so. In the aircraft in which I flew, the men who flew and fought poured into my ears their comments on fighters, flak, and flares in the same tone that they would have used in reporting a host of daffodils. I have no doubt that Bennett and Stockton would have given you a better report of last night’s activity.
Berlin was a thing of orchestrated Hell – a terrible symphony of light and flames. It isn’t a pleasant kind of warfare – the men doing it speak of it as a job. Yesterday afternoon, when the tapes were stretched out on the big map all the way to Berlin and back again, a young pilot with old eyes said to me, “I see we’re working again tonight.” That’s the frame of mind in which the job is being done. The job isn’t pleasant; it’s terribly tiring. Men die in the sky while others are roasted alive in their cellars. Berlin last night wasn’t a pretty sight. In about 35 minutes it was hit with about three times the amount of stuff that ever came down on London in a night-long blitz. This is a calculated, remorseless campaign of destruction. Right now the mechanics are probably working on D-Dog, getting him ready to fly again.
Source: Library of Congress, Milo Ryan Phonoarchive tapes 774-775
“I left here in York, went to Hebron. That was the induction station. From Hebron I went to Pawnee City and in Pawnee City, that’s where we stayed. I was right there on the fairgrounds. There was barracks and everything made there. And what we done – the farmer, all he done was paid for the fence posts and barbwire. We would put it up for him. And that’s, [we] stayed in that.
“But we didn’t have any money. You got paid $15 for the month. Ten of it went home so the folks could have 10 dollars to spend in cash because Dad was on unemployment. And five dollars was all I got for a month. If you smoked, you had to buy your shaving cream and everything out of that five dollars. Now you take five dollars, you buy yourself shaving cream and smoking and see if you can do that nowadays. But we bought them big sacks of Golden Grain [tobacco], rolled our own cigarettes and used hand soap that was in the latrine and that’s what we shaved with. Cause you didn’t have any money. “Oh, it wasn’t bad. I mean, you got the barracks and it was just like being in the service. The only thing is, in the service you had to be taught you know, how to kill people and carry a gun, take care of your gun. There, you went out on the farms and dug in fence posts and stuff like that. It was hard work. You dig them holes. You set the post. Then run the roll of barbwire, stretch it in there. Sometimes it was woven wire fence to keep the hogs in. No, that’s – it was hard work. But nobody seemed to complain down there, because you had a place to sleep, a place to eat – which was pretty skimpy a lot of times at home. So, no, I never complained about it.”
Alvin and Delbert Apetz are first generation Americans. Their father, Carl, immigrated from Germany in 1909. Alvin is the oldest. Both kids worked on their dad’s farm until he lost it in the 1930s, Alvin worked in the National Youth Administration and Delbert joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. Both brothers were in the military during World War II. Alvin fought in Germany even though he still had relatives over there. Delbert was drafted towards the end of the war. After the war, Alvin worked construction and Delbert worked for the York Dairy and in construction. Delbert died in 2005.
“Most of them went [into the program]. There was just a few that wouldn’t have anything to do with it. But, the majority of people, they all went into the program… There’s a few that said, ‘The government isn’t going to tell me what to do.’ There was a few of them. Now, I don’t think there was too many. They didn’t want the government to tell them what to do. That’s the whole story. You had to abide by their rules. If you had to leave 10 acres out, they came out and measured it, and checked it, and checked you out.”
LeRoy Hankel was raised on a farm and spoke German in the home. He only learned English after he went to school. He started farming for himself in 1937 renting ground for years until he could buy his own land in 1948. That was also the first year they had indoor plumbing. He and his wife Blondina had five children. Later, LeRoy served as an assessor for York county for 13 years. LeRoy passed on in 2005.
“And, I said, ‘Boy, you shouldn’t do that. You’re going to ruin our towns and everything.’ I was against it. But, everybody kept getting bigger and buying more land, and they’re still doing it.”
“Well, the improvement in the seeds is one [big change in agriculture]. And REA is one. That sure changed the farm life. And the improvement in the seeds. And of course, some of this farm machinery now is just massive. It’s so different than what it used to be. This multi-row – 12-row, 16-row – when I first started working in the shop, they used to list corn one row at a time with a hard ground lister behind three head of horses. One row at a time! And that was just the way a horse would plod. Now, they have these big tractors, what, maybe eight miles an hour, maybe even more.
Yeah, 12-rows, 16 – however many rows they have. That is why the farms have become bigger in acreage, too. They can handle it. But there’s another reason for that. Just in recent weeks, there’s been an article in the State Journal about the trouble that some farmers are getting into. Young farmers, they’ve spent maybe 20 years farming, they’re in their 40s, and they have to give it up. Because when they go to their banker their banker says, ‘Well, you’re not big enough.’ If you’re not farming a thousand acres and see the possibility of farming 12- or 13-hundred acres five years down the road, the banker frowns on that. He wants to see that expansion. He wants to see that increase in size.
“That’s one of the changes that takes place. You know, there was a time when the farmer, when he went to town behind horses with a buggy or wagon, he was almost compelled to go to his nearest small town, his nearest town. Now, he goes out and he sits down in his car. He can go any distance he wants to, in any direction of the compass that he wants to, 20, 30 miles. That’s one of the things that’s contributed to the decline of the small town. They have a wider choice. And the larger businesses are competition that the small town just can’t meet. It’s difficult for them to meet it. Only the exception ever meets it.
“In Gresham, our main street in Gresham was pretty well filled with buildings at that time. And there was a business in each building. And at that time, the people that lived in Gresham, most of the people that lived in Gresham, in the morning they’d get up and go downtown into their business in the main street of Gresham. Now, of course, that Gresham main street has dried up. There isn’t much there anymore. There’s a bank and a post office and a beer tavern and an insurance agency. And that just about winds it up. So, the people that live in Gresham now, they live in Gresham, it’s a bedroom community, but they work elsewhere.”
Walter Schmitt is a first generation American. His father was immigrated from Germany and his mother from Czechoslovakia. He grew up in his father’s blacksmith shop in Gresham, Nebraska. He graduated from high school in 1930 and went to work with his father. After his father died, he kept the shop open until his health failed in the early 1990s. Walter passed on in 2008 and left over $3.5 million to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for scholarships.
Question: “And what did your husband say?”
“He said, ‘Yes, I think you should.’ He said, ‘I can’t see but what it would be a good idea,’ because that south 80 [acres] laid just right. The road that went through, there was a north 80. That was the breaks by the river. But the south 80 laid just perfect that you could run the water down the rows.”
Carla Due was born in Denmark. Her parents emigrated to Nebraska when she was about two years old, but they decided the trip would be too dangerous for Carla. She grew up with her grandparents. When she was about 10 or 12 her folks tried twice to get her to come to the U.S. but she resisted. Finally, when she was 16 she crossed the Atlantic alone on a ship. She helped her parents farm, learned English, met her husband Bernard at a dance and then helped him farm.
“Well, I remember when I bought the farm. I bought it from the other banker here in town. And he said, ‘That’s got good water under it. You can irrigate that.’
“And I said, ‘I don’t think I will ever irrigate.’ Well, boy I was sure wrong. We was drilling a well a shortly after that. And it made a big difference. That irrigation changed the whole country.”
Harvey Pickrel was born in 1916 on a farm south of York, Nebraska. Harvey and his brother helped their father on the farm in many ways. They would harness the horses to the plow and, later on, drive the tractor and plow the fields. When he was old enough, Harvey started farming on his own. Harvey has seen a lot of good and bad years out on the farm, and he’s seen a lot of changes in the way farming is done.
“I must have said, ‘Well, if we’re dead, we’re just dead.’ That’s all I can remember because I don’t remember talking to her [the photographer Dorothea Lange]…
“I never once thought about living this long [81 years in 1979]. Well, I just didn’t think we’d survive. You want to know something we’re not living much better than we did, as high as everything is, than we did then…
“Seems like I’m not satisfied. I have too much on my mind. It seems like I have more temptations put on me than anyone. Course, that’s what the Bible said, that’s the way we’d be tried out. And every time I ask God to remove this awful burden off of my heart, he does.”
Nettie Featherston and her family were trying to get to California when they ran out of money in Carey, Texas, in 1937. A local cotton grower took pity on the family and hired them to harvest his cotton. They were living in a small shack near Childress when photographer Dorothea Lange drove up, talked with Nettie and took photos of her. Lange recorded the desperation in her face and in her voice: “If you die, you’re dead – that’s all.” Nettie eventually moved to Lubbock, Texas, and never made it to California although several in her family did.
[Darrel Coble:] “The wind and the dust just blew every day. The one that I remember come in here from the north that evening. Dad was in the field, and I don’t know why as dry as it was. This thing [dust storm] rolled in there, and he got caught on the tractor. And he started for the house, but he couldn’t see the house. But we had an old chickenhouse just out east of the house. And the back wheel just clipped the corner of that chickenhouse, and he knew where he was at then. And he just stopped there and got in the chickenhouse and spent the night in the chickenhouse. [Laughter.] Of course, we had kerosene lamps and everything. It got so dark you couldn’t even see without – Kerosene lamps didn’t make no light so you could see by…
“Ah, it kind of scared me, best I can recall [laughs]. I thought maybe the world was coming to an end, I didn’t know [laughs]…
“Last spring we had some pretty bad days. They weren’t the old black dusters, but I mean, there was plenty of dust in the air…
[Question:] “Do you like living in this country?” “You bet.”
[Question:] “How come?”
“It’s just home. Dad always says, ‘Anybody ever come out here and wear out two pairs of shoes here, they’d never leave.’ I’ve known some that did do it in later years.”
[Question:] “Tell me about what was it like in Colorado?”
[Lois Houle:] “It was terrible. [Laughs.] We had dust storms and droughts. We survived back there as long as we possibly could. I can remember one dust storm back there. We were coming from my grandparents’ in Straton. And as we got closer to home, you could see this big gray matter up in the air. And the minute we got home, we had a storm cellar built with things to eat and everything else in it. We were all taken to the storm cellar right away, and they went in and closed the house all up good. And we stayed down there until the storm was over. It just came to the point where we couldn’t live any more back there. And we had relatives out here already.”
[Question:] “Did they write back or anything?”
“Oh, yes! Oh, yeah! Everything was ‘beautiful’ out here. [Laughs.] This was the land of milk and honey out here.” [Woody Guthrie’s “Dust Bowl Refugee”]
Darrell Coble was a three-year-old kid “Fleeing a Dust Storm” in the famous photograph by Arthur Rothstein. The photo was taken in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, in April 1936 and came to symbolize the impact that dust could have. Darrell lived in the same county for all of his life. In 1977, he farmed 190 acres but still needed to work as a propane truck driver to make ends meet. He died in 1979. Lois (Adolf) Houle was photographed by Dorothea Lange in Wapato, Wasington, in August 1929. Her family left the high plains of Colorado after several years of drought and dust storms.
“Earnie Rupp was a John Deere dealer in Gresham, and he talked me into getting the FSA [Farm Security Administration] loan. Well, they didn’t make the payments on the tractor, but they bought me the livestock. So, that’s what we lived on. We milked cows, and some chickens, eggs, you know. We’d go to town with a can of cream and several dozen eggs. That’s what bought out groceries. For my wife and I, if you bought $5 worth of groceries, that would last you a week. ‘Course, we had our meat and stuff.
“When I got that FSA loan, it was for a $1,020, and I looked at the check and thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’ll never on God’s earth pay that off, you know.’ And now, what’s $1,000 now? Well, it really tied you down. But, yeah, they gave us some money to buy hogs. And I bought a team of horses, and I bought some milk cows so I could make a living anyway.”
Question: “Did they work with you? I mean did they – I know that part of what they were trying to do was to teach people how to do bookkeeping and all that kind of stuff.”
“Well, yeah. And they kind of taught us to do that. You had to keep a good book. Yeah.”
lroy Hoffman grew up on a farm near York. He went to a rural school and started high school in York. But he came down with scarlet fever and had to be quarantined. Shortly after, his father also came up ill and Elroy had to leave school to work on the home place and as a hired man on other farms. For a time, he worked for the brothers of David Wessels. He and his wife Florence had two children. Elroy died in 2005.
“Now, that’s where you got started at when they run the renters off. We was helping them. I was working for a renter. Now the fellow I worked for, Frank Heine, is dead. He knows about him. He had half of that country out there. He’d have, oh maybe on a half section of land, there’d be two or three houses, you know, of me and him and you. Families living in them making a decent living working for him. Well, he seen he could buy tractors up, and [he said] ‘You get off! I don’t need you no more. I don’t need you no more.’
“The fellow I worked for, he bought four new tractors at one time and three combines, see. Case tractors and combines. Well, you take a four-up team of mules – well, one tractor can do as much in a day as one team could do in a week and not be as expensive. Gas then, you know – You may not believe it, but he knows, we bought gas right here in Goodlett for nine- and ten-cents a gallon. They seen they could make so much more money by farming all of their land and running the little farmer off.”
Walter Ballard was one of six displaced farm workers photographed by Dorothea Lange in 1937 in Hardeman County, Texas. Walter couldn’t find a job and began riding the rails across the Great Plains to find any job he could. Later, he began working for the WPA. He called it “the hardest and the heaviest work I ever done.” But, he’s proud that many of the buildings, parks and roads the WPA built are still around.
“Oh, yes. There were some of the young fellows in the neighborhood. They sure did [join the CCC enthusiastically]. What were they going to do? They couldn’t get a job. They couldn’t make a penny anywhere. They were just glad there was such a thing they could go into… They didn’t take the money and go and have fun with it. They got $5.00 and the rest went to their families, their parents or whatever, who were needing it. And it was sure the rescue of a lot of families.”
He was a big man, says the size of his shoes on a pile of broken dishes by the house; a tall man too, says the length of the bed in an ustairs room; and a good, God-fearing man, says the Bible with a broken back on the floor below the window, dusty with sun; but not a man for farming, say the fields cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.
A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves covered with oilcloth, and they had a child, says the sandbox made from a tractor tire. Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole. And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames. It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.
Something went wrong, says the empty house in the weed chocked yard. Stones in the fields say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste. And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard like branches after a storm – a rubber cow, a rusty tractor with a broken plow, a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.
Ted Kooser is the first U.S. Poet Laureate choosen from the Great Plains and “a major poetic voice for rural and small town America,” according to James Billington, Librarian of Congress. Kooser was appointed laureate in 2004 after a 30-year career as a poet. In 2004, his book Delights and Shadows was awarded the Pulitizer Prize for Poetry. Ted lives on a farmstead outside rural Garland, Nebraska, and teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he is the recipient of the first U of N Presidential Professorship.
“When you see a full town turn out as that train pulls into the siding up here at Fairmont – not just the Fairmont people, but I don’t think but that maybe the cop was the only one [left] in Geneva. And I don’t think that there was maybe half a dozen people in York that weren’t at that siding on both sides of the train. And that train crept into that siding and stopped up there. And here they stand with coffee, with flags, welcome signs, you name it. They were there, from the little kids up to the good looking gal’s, mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, wagons sitting across the streets with the cars. They came from I don’t know where, but a reception committee like that is hard to forget…
“Welcoming us to the base. And they wouldn’t let go of us. As a result, a lot of us call this place home. This is our home. I live over south of Omaha, Nebraska [135 miles away]. Little town called Plattsmouth, Nebraska. I come down here at least twice, maybe three times a month. I can’t let go of this place. They say you can take the farm out of the kid but you can’t take the kid out of the farm, you’re looking at him. This is home. “
Sedgefield Hill grew up in an urban environment of St. Paul, Minnesota. When he joined the Army Air Corps in World War II, he and many others were sent to bases in rural areas. Sedgefield found a friendly environment in the towns and country surrounding the Fairmont Nebraska Airbase. He served in the 451st Bomb Group as a mechanic. The group flew hundreds of missions from bases in Italy. After the war, Sedgefield moved to Plattsmouth, Nebraska, just south of Omaha. He still returns to the Fairmont area often. “This is home,” he says.
The North Platte Canteen became the subject of a book by bestselling author and award-winning journalist Bob Greene: Once Upon a Town: the Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. Greene interviewed people who volunteered at the Canteen and some of the veterans who were among the six million soldiers who stopped in North Platte on their way to duty stations across the country.
Greene tells the stories of Nebraskans who sacrificed their own food rations and gasoline supplies so they could feed the soldiers. Day after day, volunteers prepared fried chicken, sandwiches, cookies and cakes. They loaded their cars with farm-fresh eggs, cheese and milk and drove miles on muddy roads to work in the North Platte Canteen.
One woman Greene interviewed said working at the Canteen made you “feel like you had done something worthwhile, for the glory of God and the glory of your nation. You would pray that those boys you had just seen would come back home. They were not much older than we were.” Greene says some volunteers had sons in the military, and one woman was working in the Canteen when she received word that her son had been killed in action.
With tears in their eyes, the soldiers told Greene they may have only stopped in North Platte for 10 minutes, but they never forgot it. The smiles, food, and friendliness overwhelmed the homesick soldiers. One veteran told Greene, “The biggest thing was how those people made you feel really appreciated.” One veteran recalls that men on the battlefields who had been through North Platte would often talk about it. “They would talk about it like it was a dream. Out of nowhere: ‘How’d you like to have some of that food from the North Platte Canteen right about now.'”
In 1973, the Union Pacific tore down the depot soon after the passenger trains were replaced by freight trains.
Although the troop trains are gone, North Platte today is home to the largest railroad classification yard in the world. Workers in the repair facility fix an average of 50 locomotives every day, and 18-20 cars per hour, with shifts running 24 hours per day. The shop replaces 10,000 pairs of wheels every year. Every 24 hours, Bailey Yard handles 10,000 railroad cars, each day sorting 3,000 cars into eastbound and westbound yards. The yard covers 2,80 acres and has 315 miles of track. The command center at Bailey Yard is linked to the Harriman Dispatching Center at Union Pacific headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Union Pacific Railroad serves 23 states. The main line in Nebraska is the busiest corridor in the country, with 135 trains operating on this line every 24 hours. Union Pacific ships grain, coal, food products, wood, metals, chemicals, minerals, and cars.
For the past 110 years, weather observers have kept track of the climate at thousands of places across the United States and the world. They’ve recorded temperature, rainfall, winds and other weather patterns day in and day out. From those data, they have described what is “normal” for a given place at a given time of the year. They have also been able to recognize cycles of drought throughout the recorded history.
Every decade or two over the historic record, a given region experienced dry conditions with devastating consequences for agriculture. But there are problems to overcome in this emerging science.
First, how do you actually define a “drought?” The Central Plains states like Nebraska can expect to receive somewhere around 20-inches of rain during a normal year. Alabama can expect to get over 55-inches, and their agriculture and social institutions are geared to that level of rainfall. If Alabama got only 20-inches of rain in a year, it would be a catastrophic drought for them, whereas it would be a normal year in Nebraska.
Scientists have adopted several different definitions of drought to help them understand the forces the produce it and to predict when another cycle may hit. The simplest definition is a deficit in moisture availability due to lower than normal rainfall. Other measures look at vegetative conditions, agricultural productivity, soil moisture, water levels in reservoirs and streams, and economic impacts. Using these measures, the University of Nebraska’s Drought Mitigation Center maintains a weekly drought monitoring map, along with a host of other information.
One of the other problems is that the historic record of climate change only goes back 110 years or so. So scientists have begun studying secondary indicators of climate change – the width of tree rings, lake and sand dune sediments, archaeological remains and other environmental indicators.
These studies are suggesting some interesting possibilities. For instance, drought studies may suggest why the “Lost Colony” on Roanoke Island was lost. The first English colony in North America was established on Roanoke Island in 1585. But the settlers returned to England a year later. A second group landed on Roanoke in 1587, intending to establish a permanent colony. They mysteriously disappeared by the time a supply ship reached the island in 1591.
New tree ring studies from the region have charted cycles of drought back to A.D. 1185. These studies suggest that the most severe three year period of drought in 800 years happened just as the Lost Colony was trying to get established.
Other studies have suggested that the historic droughts of the 1930s and 1950s may not have been as long or bad as droughts in prehistoric times. The 1930s drought was longer and more extensive than any drought in the last 300 years, but around A.D. 200 some parts of North America experienced drought conditions for several decades.
Paleoclimatic data have also suggested that even longer cycles can change regions from deserts to plains to forests and back over the course of centuries. These 200- and 700-year long cycles go back to the Little Ice Age and may be effected by solar activity or conditions in the ocean and atmosphere.
What all this means for farmers is that they can expect to endure times of drought, but they will have a hard time predicting exactly when or where drought might hit.
Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.
“We all got in an old Model-T and started for Oregon. We started out, and, I don’t know, we got out six miles and broke the crankshaft. This old rancher, he had some old Model-T motors laying around. He said we was welcome to a crankshaft if we wanted one. So, we went back and proceeded to tear the motor out of the old Model-T and put the crankshaft in. And that night we made Baker [laughs] which is a matter of 24 miles from the night before.
“Well, then we had pretty good luck all the rest of the way. But we got around Missoula, [Montana] and we was having a good time. See somebody along the road or something. And here was this car sitting alongside the road, and a guy sleeping in it. So, we honked and hollared at him, having a good time. Pretty soon, this car was after us. We’d heard they was sending them back [police sending migrants back at state borders], wasn’t letting ’em go on through. So, we thought, ‘Well, here’s where we go back home.’ He motioned for us to pull over to the side of the road. Anyhow, he come up and introduced himself [as Arthur Rothstein] and said he was with the Resettlement Administration [the precursor of the FSA] and asked us questions about the conditons here and one thing or another. Where we was headed for. This ‘Oregon or Bust’ on the back end was what took his eye. Then, he asked us if we cared if he took some pictures of us. Oh, we said, ‘I guess not.’ I think he took eight different poses. And then after we was out there [in Oregon] I guess probably it was that fall or winter, why these pictures started showing up in the different magazines and papers. Anyhow, we got out there and I went to work on the railroad.
“In the winter of ’45, my father passed away. And then I quit working on the railroad to get ready to come come back here. And been here ever since. [Laughs.] Oh, we’ve had our ups and downs. I think I’ve been hailed out probably five, six times, and dried out three, four years. And one year we rusted out [from a plant disease called ‘rust’].”
Eighth Grade Content Standard #5: Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others.
Robert Daugherty was born in Omaha and a self-described “city kid,” but he knew something about agriculture. His father, Robert Daugherty Sr., owned one of the larger livestock commission firms at the Omaha Stock Yards and Robert worked in the yards as a kid. During World War II he served in the Marines in the Pacific. After the war, he started Valley Manufacturing with an farmer-inventor in Valley, Nebraska. In 1952, he met Frank Zybach and bought rights to his center pivot irrigation system patents. The company was renamed Valmont Industries and is now a worldwide, diversified metal manufacturer and the largest builder of center pivot irrigation systems. Daugherty died in 2010.